Don’t Fear the Reaper? Mönchengladbach Heading to Bayern with Confidence

FC Bayern is unquestionably the best team in Germany this year and seem destined for a fourth-consecutive league title.  Many would argue they are probably also the best team in all of Europe right now. The pondering this squad’s future legacy among the game’s all-time greats is the stuff of contemporary football debate, usually paired with considerations of whether this team can complete an undefeated season.

Heading into his squad’s Allianz Arena visit this Saturday, Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder and team captain Granit Xhaka is less interested in debating the greatness of FC Bayern than in reminding everyone, including perhaps himself and his teammates, that in any given fixture, either side might come away the victor.

“They are beatable. In any case, I think that every team is beatable,” said Xhaka to Sky Sports this week. “You just have to find good solutions.”

"Dear Granit, tell everyone we're NOT parking the bus against Bayern. Love, Andre"
“Dear Granit, tell everyone we’re NOT parking the bus against Bayern. Love, Andre”

The notion of solving this particularly dominant edition of the Rekordmeister has proven to be overly daunting for most sides. Since purported contenders Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg were each saddled with a 5:1 losses in a span of just twelve days, Bayern’s domestic opponents have largely resorted to über-defensive tactics. Mostly, teams appear content to minimize damage to their goal-differential rather than taking on the risks associated with attempting to engage a squad as talented as any eleven guys Bayern might field. Eintract Frankfurt even managed to leverage such a “negative” approach to earn a point from Bayern at Commerzbank Arena, which will only encourage other teams to see all-defense, all-the-time as the best possible tactic against Bayern.

Despite surrendering three goals to TSG Hoffeheim 1899, the first goals Huub Stevens’ latest rescue project has managed since mid-October, die Fohlen will apparently take a different approach in attempting to take points from their trip to Bavaria

“We certainly will not be quite as open as in Hoffenheim,” said Xhaka to Kicker earlier this week, “but we also won’t have ten men in our own penalty area.”

Teammate Havard Nordtveit, talking to the club’s official website, provided a little more insight to the defensive approach his team expects to employ.

“If you want to pick up points against Bayern, then you have to defend intelligently,” says the Norwegian central defender, “Many teams adopt a highly defensive setup, but this is often ineffective due to the fact that Bayern tend to eventually find a hole. We will not only concentrate on our defense, but will look to play forward. I hope that we are able to create chances and score goals, just like we have done in recent matches.”

While fans planning to watch the game will certainly be glad to hear they may be treated to a less-dull affair than many of Bayern’s one-sided contests have been, don’t think for a second that the ‘gladbachers are motivated solely by a desire to appease those who continually call for opponents to be less boring when facing the Bavarian juggernaut.

“It’s clear that Bayern is currently at a level where no team, I believe, in Europe or the world is,” says Xhaka. “But Bayern is beatable, and we will try everything on Saturday so as to succeed.”

“We want to win every game, whether it is Bayern or another team.”

Xhaka’s bluster speaks to a self-confidence that you would want from your designated team leader, which may also be representative of the coach who promoted the Austrian to the captaincy. Since replacing Lucien Favre, Andre Schubert has yet to experience a Bundesliga loss as coach of Borussia Mönchengladbach. A run of nine matches undefeated in one of the world’s top leagues would be enough send a surge of confidence through any roster.

“We are undefeated in nine games,” says US national Fabian Johnson, who scored two goals in Saturday’s draw. “Bayern should also feel our run!”

And unless you think it’s a recent brace against his former club that is boosting Johnson’s ego . . .

“Never give up! That’s our mentality. When the game starts, even against Bayern it’s 0:0.”

The player behind this moment of pragmatic cliche? None other than Josip Drmic.

The former 1. FC Nürnburg attacker might know something about perseverance, too.

Scoring an equalizer against your former club . . . nothing could be finer.
Scoring an equalizer against your former club . . . nothing could be finer.

Drmic bagged 17 goals to finish third in the goal-scoring race of 2013-14. With der Club headed to the second division, the Swiss goal-scorer had no lack of options for continuing his career in the Bundesliga, landing with Bayer Leverkusen.

Drmic, however, never quite found his fit with die Werkself, logging under 800 minutes in a reserve roll and nabbing just six goals. Drmic moved to Mönchengladbach last summer in search of a return to full-time status, but again has yet to make his breakthrough, having made just his third start of the season last weekend and getting his first goal with the “B” on his chest.

Do his personal struggles to reignite his form keep Drmic from feeling like a significant contributor?

Apparently not.

“We have become a power,” boasts Drmich.

Mid-week braggadocio is one thing, but when the whistle blows Saturday at 3:30 CET, it’ll be the football that talks, and when you’re a Champions League participant looking to make your mark by taking down the biggest target in the footballing world, there will be no awarding of moral-victory points for a courageous posture if the score goes sideways.

US audiences can tune-in to see whether Xhaka and his teammates can do more than talk when FC Bayern München – Borussia Mönchengladbach gets started on Fox Sports 1 at 9:30 ET/6:30 PT.



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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.